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Example 2: A sample survey

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Statistics Canada conducts many sample surveys each year. One of these is the monthly Labour Force Survey, from which information is produced on Canada's employed and unemployed persons. The Labour Force Survey is a household survey of a sample of individuals who are representative of the civilian, non-institutionalized population 15 years of age or older in Canada's 10 provinces. Specifically excluded from the survey's coverage are residents of Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories, persons living on Aboriginal Reserves, full-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces and inmates of institutions. These groups together represent an exclusion of approximately 2% of the population aged 15 and over. Since July 1995, the survey has obtained information through a monthly sample of approximately 53,000 households. Once a household is selected, it will remain in the sample for a period of six consecutive months.

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) uses a sample which represents about 0.5% of more than 10 million households in Canada. The response burden is high on those households selected to participate in the sample, but non-existent for all the other households. Because a sample is used, and the survey is repeated each month, the results can be published just 13 days after the end of the interview week. The Census releases its first numbers (population and household numbers) almost a year after Census day. Other variables take even longer to publish.

The main drawback of using a sample is that the estimates are subject to sampling variability. A large sample and an efficient design can keep the variability at a low level. Nevertheless, this variability is still higher when you look at provincial estimates (e.g., for unemployment), and even higher for smaller sub-groups.

As with the Census of Population, many people in Canada need and use information from the Labour Force Survey. Data from the survey provide information on major labour market trends such as shifts in employment across industrial sectors, hours worked, labour force participation and unemployment rates.

Sometimes there is a need to obtain more information than just employment and unemployment statistics. In order to account for this information, Statistics Canada may ask additional questions in the Labour Force Survey. Topics can vary, and in the past, have included job search experience of unemployed persons, number of people with more than one job and school attendance. Many of these topics have now been fully integrated into the monthly Labour Force Survey.

A number of important information items are produced from the Labour Force Survey. One example of this would be youth participation in the labour force (proportion of all teenagers aged 15 to 19 years who are either employed or unemployed). These participation rates are shown below, and the figures are for August of each year.

Labour force participation rates, 15- to 19-year-olds, August, Canada
  1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
  %
Females 60.2 56.8 56.6 58.3 58.4 62.6 61.2 66.4
Males 63.3 61.2 59.8 60.1 60.8 63.0 64.5 67.6